Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report
This year's CES (Consumer Electronics Show) ran in Las Vegas from January 8-12, following Macworld in San Francisco. My report on Macworld was called "New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers". This is my report on CES. Coming up, reports on LinuxWorld Expo in New York, which ran from January 21-23, and the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, which ran from February 9-12.
One year ago, Kunitake Ando, president and CEO of Sony, gave a keynote speech at CES explaining how his company would lead the rest of the industry's giants into an "always on" and "interactive" future built largely on a co-developed embedded Linux distribution. Six months later, in July, the CE Linux Forum (CELF) was formed by Sony, Matshushita, NEC, Philips, Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba. Today, the membership roster also includes IBM, Mitsubishi, Metrowerks, Motorola, Nokia, LSI Logic, HP, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Phoenix, Samsung, Sanyo and Montavista.
So, as CES approached, I looked for signs of World Domination at work. Sure enough, Montavista had lined up a hundred or more consumer electronics partners, and the Embedded Linux Consortium had five programs in one session track. So I expected to see plenty of braggage about Linux out on the show floor--at least among CELF members.
What I discovered was something else. The narrative that follows is an account of that discovery. (Many of the links below point to my photo gallery from the trip.)
After picking up my badge and my rolling Toshiba backpack (one of thousands handed out to badgeholders in the press room), I looked at the four show guides and wondered how I could begin to cover even a fraction of the Linux surely on display at the show.
img src="images/showguides.jpg" alt="figure"
Here's the rundown:
Sourcebook: 530 pages
Show Guide: 160 pages
Addendum: 70 pages
Visitor's Guide: 104 pages
Total: 804 pages
I was one of 4,000 press badgeholders among 129,000 attendees spread across 1.1 million square feet or more of floor space in seven exhibition halls. I say "or more" because reports of the floor size vary. The new South Hall, which has 1.3 million square feet all by itself, brings the whole Las Vegas Convention Center to a total of 3.2 million square feet. That still would be south of CES' total square footage, since the whole LVC was packed wall-to-wall with CES exhibits, including two floors of exhibit space in the South Hall and more across town at the Alexis Park Hotel.
No exaggeration, the central aisles in the South Hall are so long that they feature green road signs like the ones on interstate highways.
Although the CES Web site was helpful as far as convention sites go (as a breed, they're usually brochures), it didn't provide a way to search through all the show guides for the word "Linux". Fortunately, the CES people did provide touchscreen kiosks in the hallways; thankfully, those got me straight to the information I needed.
So here's a question. Out of 2,300+ exhibitors, how many do you think mentioned "Linux" in their descriptions of what they were up to at the show? A couple hundred? Fifty?
The only brand name among them was Real Networks, which had a huge booth but nobody to talk to about Linux. No Sony. No Toshiba. No Philips. No IBM or HP or Dell. And no CELF members other than Softier, whose booth I couldn't find.
Not even Transmeta, famous for years as the employer of Linus Himself (who is officially on a leave of absence from the company). Transmeta had a good-size booth in the South Hall and a lot to talk about. In fact, I ran into a couple of Linux hackers there: Karim Yaghmour and Greg Ungerer. Yet nothing in Transmeta's promotional poop at the booth mentioned Linux (that I noticed, anyway). John Heinlein, the Director of System Marketing at Transmeta, said plenty of Linux was running on Transmeta chips, old and new--RLX blade servers, for example. I saw racks of those when I visited DolphinSearch in Ventura last year. There's also nothing, Heinlein said, to stop anybody from putting Linux on Transmeta-based hardware. He showed me one Linux-ready tablet device that was, indeed, cool. Still, it was running Windows.
Another chip company, VIXS, which makes chipsets and software for distributing video by Wi-Fi, took a similar stance. The company mentioned nothing about Linux in its booth or its literature, but said it could support Linux as a primary system platform choice made by OEM customers, which include Toshiba and other major brands. In fact, the company said they had to do so, because so many OEMs were building set-top boxes and similar devices that run on Linux.
So, it's clear that Linux is fast becoming a pure infrastructural commodity – like the air we breathe. Why promote what's best taken for granted? Thus, take Linux's decreasing visibility as the inverse of its ubiquity.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal
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